Losing a pregnancy is an overwhelming experience for both mind and body. There is a seemingly never-ending amount of past, present, and future to process and grieve. While grief and loss are an inevitable part of life for everyone, no one teaches us what it means, looks like, feels like, or how to interact and share a life with it. Connecting with others who have experienced something similar is an often understated path to healing. Not everyone has access to grief groups or an online following where they can garner support from peers of loss. Reading can be a gateway to finding that connection through the stories of others.
Finding books that are relevant to your story of pregnancy loss can feel complicated. Factors like how far along you were, your religious beliefs, or the circumstances of your loss can greatly affect what stories feel relevant to you. This is a genre that truly needs some attention and diversification. There are few things lonelier than pregnancy loss. The moment you read something that reflects or gives words to how you feel or what you’ve been through, the loneliness feels a little less heavy.
The books recommended below focus on stories of late-term, infant, and child loss, as well as other stories of the human experience with grief and trauma after the death of a loved one. These recommendations aren’t religious leaning, which is quite common in the realm of pregnancy loss media resources, and they are by no means a one-size-fits-all collection. What they are is honest, vulnerable, and sometimes even gritty. And let’s face it, experiencing death after creating life is nothing if not gritty.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Elizabeth McCracken does nothing to sugarcoat her experience of losing a baby in her loss and life memoir. Her son, lovingly nicknamed Pudding, passed away full-term while Elizabeth and her husband were living in a remote part of France. She carries us through the ridiculous, precious, and impossible-to-imagine moments of learning your child has died in your belly for no known cause, birthing a full-term baby that is no longer living, and the twilight-zone-esque days, weeks, and months that follow.
Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene
Jayson and his wife lost their two-year-old daughter Greta in a freak occurrence after a brick fell from a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and hit her in the head. Jayson has spent most of his career writing about music. His innate ability to capture and put words to the intangible is reflected in his memoir about his daughter’s life, death, and their life after. Jayson writes about the rollercoaster of grief in a way that leaves the reader, saying, “Yes! Exactly! THAT!” on nearly every page of the book. It may go without saying, but rarely is a book written or a story told about pregnancy or child loss from the perspective of the father. This book will easily resonate with both mothers and fathers who are truly grappling with a traumatic loss.
The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp Black
This is a story of child loss after two parents received an always-fatal diagnosis of Tey Sachs disease for their nine-month-old son, Ronan. Emily and her husband are forced to re-learn what it means to be parents after learning of Ronan’s degenerative disease and prognosis to not live past age three. All parents who lose pregnancies, babies, and children are subject to grappling with how to be a parent to a child with no future. Emily’s candid story is a testament to the brutal and beautiful power of mortal love.
Our Heartbreaking Choices by Christie Brooks
No one who chooses to get pregnant ever expects to need to consider abortion. This book is a 46-story collection of first-hand accounts of mothers who were faced with an impossible decision to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy after receiving a poor prenatal diagnosis. The lengths so many of these mothers had to go through to access safe and legal healthcare is gut-wrenching. These stories strip away all notion of politics surrounding the topic of abortion. Whether or not you’ve experienced terminating a wanted pregnancy, this book gives an unparalleled perspective on the deep well that is a mother’s love and strength for her baby.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul’s memoir, written in the last months of his life, is a self-observation of coming to terms with mortality. He was in his 30s, working to become a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. He had never smoked a day in his life. Though his story is very different from pregnancy loss, Paul’s thoughtful, wise attention to some of the most important yet often unobserved questions in life makes the book a must-read for anyone who is forced to confront death (which is everyone)!
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
A recommended practice for anyone who is bereaved is to write without limits. C.S. Lewis took to paper after tragically losing his wife, resulting in his account through the darkest, most twisted depths of his grief. At times his words read as nearly maniacal as he struggles with losing his fundamental sense of meaning in the universe. When someone close to us dies, our reason for existence is often questioned. We go through a period of our work, health, daily responsibilities, faith, passions, and relationships feeling stale and meaningless. C.S. gives the bereaved hope by taking us through the heaviest days and months of his grief and then, though he is forever changed, he begins to find his bearing and discovers that there is more light upon the earth for him.
Grief Works by Julia Samuel
Julia is a grief psychotherapist and author of Grief Works, which reads like a handbook for grievers and those who wish to support someone who is bereaved. She quickly cuts to the chase that everyone faces death, and we all need to get better at interacting with it honestly. Through sharing case studies of her patients who have suffered losses of parents, siblings, spouses, and children, Julia teaches us that there is such a thing as doing the “work” of grief. She believes it is essential for our processing and healing to confront and wrestle with that monster. Julia compassionately gives tangible guidance and wisdom to her readers—offering a message of hope that there is life after loss.
Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief by Claire Bidwell Smith
Postpartum anxiety and depression don’t only exist for mothers who gave birth to living, healthy babies. The postpartum body goes through an avalanche of hormonal changes, and when compounded with grief, anxiety often has the potential to rear its head in a big way. Claire is a grief expert and LCPC, who through working with clients experiencing loss, discovered what she believes is the 6th and missing stage of the classic Kübler-Ross grief processing model. She shares case studies and her own research in this easy-to-follow guide to understanding the relationship between anxiety and grief and gives her guidance on how to work through the anxiety and find a path to healing. This book would be dynamite if it focused on anxiety after pregnancy loss, but it is a great first step in that direction!
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, & Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Acknowledging that pregnancy loss is, in fact, an experience of genuine trauma can be a powerful step towards finding healing. But it’s only the beginning. Whether you had a traumatic birth that resulted in a loss or were blindsided by a poor prenatal diagnosis that resulted in your baby’s death, these experiences lodge themselves in the psyche and, according to leading trauma expert van der Kolk, actually reshape our bodies and brains. This is a thick read, but it has the potential to offer a panoply of “Aha!” moments as van der Kolk explains how trauma imprints itself on our minds and bodies. Furthermore, he offers 30-years worth of case studies and experience in helping patients find holistic pathways to healing the effects of post-traumatic stress.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This book is a joy to read. It is the only fiction piece on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less important of a read. This is the story of a couple who, after delivering their only child stillborn, move a world away to become homesteaders in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1900s. In this isolated, wild region of the world, a story of magic realism unfolds. In a rare, light moment of fun, the couple builds a snowgirl during the first snow of winter. The next morning they discover the snowgirl is gone, but later see a young girl with blonde hair running through the trees. Without giving too much away, the story challenges conventional notions of what it means to be parents, children, and a family in a heartbreaking and beautiful way.
Sol Affirmations: A Toolkit For Mothers Who Are Investigating Grief’s Process by Felicia Gangloff-Bailey
Written by a mother who lost her first daughter shortly after birth, Sol Affirmations is less a typical book and more a space to reflect on and journal about the many stages of grief after pregnancy and child loss. Each spread includes a touching, heart-hitting affirmation to ruminate on. Read about Felicia’s personal story and creation of the book here.
What about you? Did you read a book after a loss that was particularly resonant? Share your recommended reads in the comments!
Emily Thompson is a writer, producer, and creative director based in the Pacific Northwest. She lost her first baby in January of 2019 at 23 weeks, and uses her writing to keep the memory of her daughter alive, and explore her experience of grief and healing. She had her rainbow baby in early 2020.
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